Why Soap Is Screwing Up Your Microbiome

The link below is to a short video from The Atlantic featuring interviews with a journalist who stopped using soap and body cleaning products for 10 months, with the founder of a company who makes skin product that constitutes nothing but nitrosonomas eutropha, a common bacteria found in soil, and one of the pioneers of microbiome research (who “rarely showers”, but bathes often). Their professional opinions? That aside from hand-washing, we don’t really need to use soap on our bodies.

Click here to watch.

I’ve had a fraught relationship with soaps and body washes and skin cleansers for my whole life. As a kid I often had to take oatmeal baths for my eczema, and when I wasn’t dealing with scaly rashes, I was constantly waging a war against skin that was both bone-dry and acne-prone. I quickly learned that my acne wouldn’t respond to anything but birth control. I tried everything short of prescription cleansers and ointments, and realized that it was all a just waste of money, so after college I stopped washing my face with much of anything but water. Even post-hysterectomy and post-hormone regimen, my acne is still considerably more manageable than it was just a few years ago.

I still liked using body cleansers when I could afford them, though. I liked the way they smelled, and I still had this idea in my head of what being hygienic and clean meant – that is, it meant resembling something smooth and sterile rather than an actual human body that’s half comprised of bacteria!

I made the switch from fancy gel washes to bar soap when I started doing the zero waste thing, but my soap application was pretty much restricted to a few key places – I’m sure you can guess what they are – rather than every inch of skin everywhere. What I began to notice, though, was that that light sheen of natural oil that I once thought of as a mark of being “gross” began to become a new, healthy normal. It didn’t smell, nor did it rub off as grime. So I paid attention to what it felt like having that on my skin, and after a while, decided that I liked it. It certainly felt better than drying myself out, killing everything on my skin, and replacing all that lost moisture with some overpriced body lotion. I can’t stand the feeling of that oil being stripped away now – of being bone-dry or greasy from lotion again.

For those of us using a no-poo regimen based on the knowing the benefits of leaving the hair’s natural oils intact, then maybe it’s time to consider the skin in a similar way!

I’ve only got one cleaning agent in my shower these days – a bar of soap for the pits. I use rye flour and a little cider vinegar on my hair now (thanks to a tip from one of my readers!), but a few tablespoons of that gets mixed up before every shower and doesn’t sit around or it’ll go rancid. Dirt cheap, healthy, and no more time consuming than using a normal shampoo/conditioner regimen with a leave-in product afterward. Win-win-win.

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6 thoughts on “Why Soap Is Screwing Up Your Microbiome

  1. I stopped using soap on my body’s skin months ago, and use ACV for my armpits. Nothing in the vaginal folds cause that area is prone to irritations. Just water and a washcloth. No smells (checked with other people so that it’s not just my own biases lol) and no more of that skin/grime rub-off that would happen when I dried myself (not sure what it’s called if it has an official name). My face is doing better with hardly using any soap too, though I still like to use ACV and jojoba oil for it cause it gets too dry from the water and I am in a house with smokers on the weekends.

    It’s so much cheaper too to live like this. I love it!

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    • I can’t believe the things I used to fret about having to buy when I was in college. Paper towels, surface cleaner, shampoo… a lot of trips to the store and $ it would have saved me if I’d learned that I could do just about everything with BS, ACV, lemon, and a rag. God, the money I could have saved with the safety razor ALONE…

      Yeah, I just do the armpits now too, unless I’m covered in sunscreen. The junk gets a good water scrubbin’ and that’s it for me too. I remember getting stung by soap down there as a little kid in the bath. Not interested in experiencing that again!

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    • I didn’t hear about it until recently either. It’s really the only thing that compares to baking soda in terms of price and ease of use (like seriously, who can afford to wash their hair with goddamn honey and avocado??), and I don’t know if it’s because of our hard-ass water here or what, but my hair was taking a turn for the worse a few months ago and I think it’s beginning to recover with the change in regimen.

      I have pretty short hair – about 8″ on top and an inch everywhere else – so I mix up about a tablespoon and a half of rye flour and maybe a teaspoon of vinegar, and then just enough water to make a runny paste. I work it into my hair, scrub/massage my scalp, let it sit for a few minutes, and then rinse. You’re supposed to get superfine flour or something, but I just use whatever WF has. It leaves little grains in your hair no matter how much you rinse, but it’s easy enough for me to shake out when my hair’s all dry.

      Weird, huh?

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      • ALSO what I like about this a lot more than the baking soda is that the resulting graywater is a lot safer to dispose of in the garden if I want.

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